Young Remeya – fosterling and maid-in-waiting to King Xavo’s sister – worships the old and forbidden horned god alongside the princess.
A worship made taboo half a millennium ago. Performed still in secret by a few. Quietly tolerated by the king.
Until madness took him, there beside the stone well on the grassy hillside of the castle’s outer bailey.
As the king’s mind unravels into violence, no one near him remains safe, not even his best beloved. Especially not his best beloved.
Worse, Remeya believes King Xavo’s insanity arose from her own mistake. Because she said yes, instead of no.
When life itself hangs in the balance, putting wrong to right is surely past praying for. Or is it?
Epic fantasy in which old beliefs and old loyalties clash with hidden magic in the Middle Ages of J.M. Ney-Grimm’s god-touched North-lands.
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PRAISE FOR HUNTING WILD
“This is really well done. I only meant to read a few pages, and looked up a couple hours later when I finished.” – Amazon review
EXCERPT FROM HUNTING WILD
Remeya stared at the table runner, aghast.
How had the princess dared to order this tapestry – of all the choices in the castle chests – placed on the console table? Yet here it lay, ready for the viands that would soon feed the princess’ ladies while they watched the tourney.
A forbidden piece of household linen depicting events from a forbidden religion. A religion that had once included ritual human sacrifice, drawing their god down from the sky to cleanse the earth of evil. But that now featured only the pouring of wine and the burying of bread.
The table runner was a magnificent piece of work. If only its subject were more . . . prudent.
Remeya shivered, despite the warmth of the day.
Within the tapestry, did the green leaves of the paradise tree shiver also, stirred by a breath of air unseen amidst the forest in the brocade? Would the drop of dew sliding down the rich red of the pomegranate fall to the sun-dappled flank of the rider’s bay steed? Would the powerful muscles of the stallion’s haunch bunch and thrust both out of the shadows and into the light?
If I look with enough reverence, will I see him? Their horned lord with the head of a stag, the body of a man, and the heart of a god? Their taboo lord, Cummenos. Oh, will I?
Almost, it seemed she might.
The work was that fine. The threads that vivid. The stitches that perfect. She should know. She’d plied a needle more than enough to judge. Her nose wrinkled. Ugh! She hated doing fancy work.
A burst of cheering interrupted her shocked reverie.
It was a mild, breezy day in late autumn. Remeya stood at the back of the royal box, new built for King Xavo’s tourney, under the shadow of its tented canopy. The resinous scent of raw larch planks mingled with a whiff of dusty grass on moving air. Nine ladies-in-waiting clustered near the front, surveying Castel Baloron’s outer bailey where the knightly bouts went forward. They chattered like a flock of vivid birds.
Plump Lady Corenna, the most stylish of them, fanned herself vigorously. The closer-than-usual fit of her green and gold brocade bodice and the weight of her elaborate skirts made her hot. Remeya stifled a giggle. Corenna thought the way her tight clothing flattened her bust made her look smaller, but the excess flesh had to go somewhere, pushing up above the edge of her ruffled chemise in two rounds more conspicuous than if they’d been covered.
Tall Lady Juneya looked cool and collected in ash blue silk shot with silver thread, her gown and chemise under it cut in the looser silhouette reminiscent of old-fashioned robes. Lady Juneya had dignity, but somehow Remeya felt more comfortable with her than with jolly Lady Corenna.
Remeya glanced down at her own garb. Pale yellow silk gown embroidered with bronze traceries, fitted enough to be fashionable, but not tight like Lady Corenna’s. A strip of her cream chemise with its cream embroidery showed at the square neck. She loved how the yellow and cream set off her long chestnut hair and her brown eyes. Velvet eyes. That’s what Max had said!
If it weren’t for her youth, she’d seem one of the princess’ ladies. And she did share many of their duties. Singing to the Princess Aeliana, fetching for her, carrying messages. But Remeya was a royal fosterling, quite an honor being reared by a princess. And unexpectedly fun.
At least it had been. In the beginning.
Metal clanged on metal as two knights lunged forward in the lists. The crowd roared again.
Hurriedly, Remeya set down the lidded tureen of bisque soup – right atop the paradise tree and the glimpse of Cummenos and his steed, visible between the branches.
There. Now it just looked like a woodland glade. Who would guess that it was the sacred grove where Cummenos rested before his wild hunt?
She descended the stairs at the back of the box to receive the next dish – a compote of orange marmalade dumplings – and ferried it up.
I’ll put this one over the serpent, crushed under the horse’s hoof, and then all the clues will be hidden.
The sweet citrusy smell of the marmalade should be tempting her appetite. It wasn’t. The compote weighed heavily in her hands, filled with enough for the bevy attending the princess. I don’t want any.
If only, if only the princess were more timid.
A spurt of temper straightened Remeya’s back as she dodged Bernessa – another fosterling, one year younger than herself – bringing a flagon of chilled wine to the table.
Damn her! Timidity, hell! Maybe a little self-preservation? Or a chance at fun?
Remeya had been enjoying herself only a moment ago.
The pennants snapped, bright in the stiff breeze. The mood of the crowd – nobles, merchants, page boys, and peasants – fizzed, merry and poised for excitement.
As was I.
She’d bounced and cheered, enjoying the newness of the stands and the royal box, erected specially for this tourney and vivid against the old, soft red stones of Castel Baloron.
She’d waved her handkercher over her head.
“Did you see? Did you see him?” she demanded of Bernessa, her sister fosterling. “Maximo’s footwork was perfect! Amias never even saw that backhand blow till it connected!”
“What do you know of backhand blows and footwork?” retorted Bernessa. Then she grinned. “He is good, isn’t he?”
Remeya returned her attention to the lists. “I’ve watched the squires in the tilting yard,” she answered, eyes on the two young men finishing their bout.
Both stripped off their gauntlets to shake hands, then doffed their bronze helmets to exchange the ritual peace kisses on either cheek, indicating their good will. The jousts were tests of skill, not occasions to form enmity. Here at the tirocinium, an exercise for the newly knighted, it was particularly important that contestants follow the correct forms.
Amias stooped for his gauntlets and helm, limped toward his pavilion. Maximo slung an arm about his defeated opponent’s shoulders, shoring him up. Evidently the two were friends, not merely civil in the aftermath of victory and defeat.
I don’t know all his circle anymore. She’d used to, before his father, the Cavalier Pellucon, sent Maximo away to Castel Graezon for fostering and training. Before her father, Warder of Baloron, sent her to the Princess Aeliana as maid-in-waiting.
It’s a good thing, she decided. He used to be grubby and annoying. And I was . . . equally grubby and . . . equally annoying. She smothered a grin.
Maximo had delivered Amias to his men-at-arms. Then he approached the royal box and bowed.
“Your Highness” – that was to the Princess Aeliana – “my Ladies “ – another bow to the matrons- and maids-in-waiting – “my victory is yours.” He smiled directly at Remeya. “May I claim my guerdon?”
Her spirits recovered. She bounced again, once, then quelled herself. She felt a grown lady, bestowing her handkercher after a champion had jousted for her.
Better act like one.
Max received his guerdon becomingly, no hints of their childhood association lessening Remeya’s dignity, and retired with another bow.
His was the last bout of the tirocinium. There would be an interval before all the knights gathered for the melee. The tiros needed rest and refreshment. The spectators did too.
Remeya craned her neck, looking for the kitchen churls. It was her job – and Bernessa’s – to carry the covered platters up to the royal box.
Ah! The churls had emerged from the barbican of the inner court. She’d risen to her feet and nudged her friend. They’d descended the stairs, Remeya first to receive the bisque soup. Remeya first to re-ascend. Remeya first to see Cummenos on the table runner.
And hide him.
“What’s the matter?” whispered Bernessa. “We have to serve!”
Indeed they did.
Tall Lady Juneya wanted bisque only. Petite Lady Varice preferred the dumplings. And plump Lady Corenna requested some of everything.
The princess declined all but wine. Her thin hand trembled receiving the chalice, cool and beaded with moisture.
Remeya glanced upward in surprise. Met the royal gaze.
Aeliana smiled, but her blue eyes looked sad. The line between them deepened.
Remeya repented her earlier spurt of temper.
The princess deserved only her respect. Her position was not easy. So much had changed in two years. Aeliana herself had changed. Grievously.
Remeya remembered her first encounter with royalty. Vividly.
Accompanied by her father’s guardsmen and their captain, she’d arrived at Castel Cincrestes two years ago, a wide-eyed thirteen-year-old, amazed at the sight of the royal stronghold. In the heat of noontide, they’d passed under the outer gatehouse into the city and ridden up the hill, winding through the cobbled streets between narrow houses of golden-toned stone. Then under the gatehouse of the castle’s curtain wall and through a succession of courts, each with its own massive gatehouse and portcullis. The vast pile of the castle bulked larger and larger. Its towers loomed ever taller. She felt smaller and smaller as the king’s residence enclosed her.
Until she entered the echoing receiving hall, its arched ceiling soaring overhead, its tall windows letting in a flood of sunlight to gleam on the polished marble floor. So much more formal than the rough sandstone of her home, Castel Baloron. Being passed from one groom of the chamber to another as she travelled the long galleries helped her intimidation not at all.
By the time she reached a spacious parlor where dozens of silk-gowned ladies sat on gilded chairs or clustered here and there on an elaborate carpet, she felt utterly out of place.
The last groom of the chamber in that long chain of them led her up to a young woman perched on a window seat. Jeweled pins secured her auburn curls atop her head. Golden threads glinted in flowered brocade of her gown. She seemed more resplendent than everyone and everything else. And, yet, her face was merry, with a twinkle to her deep blue eyes and a dimple at her mouth.
“Lady Remeya, I bid you welcome! Come here, child.” Her voice matched her face. Friendly and warm.
All Remeya’s apprehension fell from her in an instant as she took the princess’ extended hand.
An auspicious beginning that heralded her initial experience at court quite accurately.
The princess conducted her household informally and encouraged intimacy from her ladies-in-waiting. And her brother, the king, despite the formality of his household, joined his sister for many a pleasant and convivial evening.
That was then.
It had all changed a year ago.
Remeya studied the now-strained face of her mistress. Worry had banished Aeliana’s happy expression long since.
“Your Highness?” Remeya dipped a curtsey.
“My thanks, child. Truly I have little hunger. Perhaps I’ll desire more when I sup this eve.”
Except she wouldn’t. Her Highness had displayed little appetite for near on a month.
Remeya shivered, remembering her own source of worry, wondering why her fear – yes, it was fear, not worry – and that of the princess ran in parallel.
It’s our king.
On the thought, trumpets blared. Remeya started, nearly spilling the wine.
“Best put the flagon aside, child.”
“It will be well.”
Except it wouldn’t.
She moved to the back of the box, setting the wine vessel to hide another portion of that forbidden tapestry. That shouldn’t be forbidden. The Holy Hermit Cathal had ended the practice of ritual slayings with his martyrdom more than one thousand years ago.
The chief herald was speaking, voice projected above the susurration of the breeze.
“His Majesty, King Xavo of Istria, Lord of Ebior . . .” and on with all the king’s titles “. . . declares he shall meet Lord Rollo, High Gravine of Eirdry, in the test of the joust. May the stouter champion prevail!”
Another blast from the trumpets.
A knight on a black horse – the massive stallion, Morke – rode from behind the most magnificent pavilion.
Remeya couldn’t see his face at this distance. Could not have seen it, even were she closer, since the visor of his dark helm was down. Did not want to see his face.
The memory of it as he had received the lost falchion from her hand one year ago troubled her still. Turned her worry to fear.